Music

Gotye: Making Mirrors

The "Somebody That I Used to Know" vehicle earns Gotye an American debut album and delivers a surprisingly eclectic batch of accompanying tunes.

Gotye

Making Mirrors

Label: Universal Republic
US Release Date: 2012-01-31
UK Release Date: 2012-02-13
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While Making Mirrors marked Gotye's stateside debut this January, it's worth noting that the Belgium-born, Australia-bred Wally de Becker has been doing this music thing for quite a while now. He originally exploded in his home country thanks to a song he released in 2007 called "Heart's a Mess", a song so popular in Australia that fans of their national pop radio station Triple J actually voted it one of the 100 "hottest" songs of all-time just two years later. For whatever reason that song had next to no discernible impact on an international level despite the track's enjoyable Gorillaz-type vibe and odd, highly viewable Nightmare Before Christmas-like video. But his next salvo, "Somebody That I Used to Know", has very rightly not suffered a similarly entrapped fate.

I first became aware of the song while riding in a moving van as the driver listened to my local hard rock station (Breaking Benjamin, Trapt, et al), and the DJ eased us into a commercial break with the warning that when we came back, she'd be playing a song via Youtube stream that had mysteriously broken over 20 million hits. When it turned out to be "Somebody That I Used to Know", my ears immediately perked up at first because of its stark contrast to the station's usual fair, but very quickly due to the song's pitch-perfect delivery and rare mix of simplicity and nuance. This was a hit song in the classic vein of hit songs, the sort of track that made it big for no other reason than it was destined to be, a "Crazy" for the viral age.

It was important to note that Gotye has a history, though, because for better or worse "Something That I Used to Know" is by and large a red herring in relation to the rest of Making Mirrors. The Damon Albarn comparison is a largely worthwhile one as Gotye has a similar eagerness for trying on new hats, from electro-reggae to bedroom synth pop to '80s new wave and a whole lot of summery amalgams of many things in between. Sometimes the experimentation is a success, while a few tracks leave one wishing Gotye would just pick a style and exercise within it.

On the positive end, "Eyes Wide Open" feels like a modern Coldplay track that hasn't gotten entirely lost in its own pomp while "Save Me" may as well have been ghostwritten for Keane on their best day. Both tracks are shimmering examples of piano pop done right, especially the former with an infectious groove that belies Gotye's foundations as a drummer. The opening set of mini-songs that breaks seamlessly into "Something That I Used to Know" is a real joy, too, as they somehow effortlessly blend the barely-there computerized title track into the boisterous "Easy Way Out", a roaring rocker that brings to mind the way bands used to teasingly toe a line between the garage and the charts in the heyday of Weezer.

But, just as often, Gotye's spot the influence game backfires on him. "State of the Art" is a plodding reggae jam made all the more out of place by his Colin Munroe-like use of Auto-Tune, flailing around through a variety of filters and effects on the sort of track that asks for anything but that. "Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching You" follows with more, subtler reggae vibes, but their rooted in a riff that feels oddly similar to The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" and the track just lies there, limp. "In Your Light" is the exact sort of song you'd imagine soundtracking a coffee commercial featuring numerous extras parading through a mall park in business attire lead by a lip syncing George Michael. "I Feel Better" brings to mind a whole lot of George McDonald as interpreted by The 40-Year Old Virgin and "Smoke and Mirrors" can't seem to decide whether it's a Pink Floyd or Gang Gang Dance tribute.

While all of these things are varying degrees of fine in a vacuum – and none of them threaten to make Making Mirrors an album not worth recommending – it does derail the experience of listening to Making Mirrors as an album rather than a compilation. More importantly, it leaves plenty of doubt as to who or what Gotye really is other than a clearly talented multi-instrumentalist toying around in his studio crafting highly subversive breakup anthems alongside songs with as much emotional heft as a late-90s Disney credit sequence soundtrack.

Which brings me again and just once more to the Damon Albarn comparison. Fans of his adventurousness under the Gorillaz moniker could definitely find a CD to love with Making Mirrors, but to my ears this is what Gorillaz might have been had Albarn not spent his formative years as the member of one of the most consistently popular four-piece bands of the '90s, Blur. With no one to bounce ideas off of, Gotye is left to fool around in his studio at the whim of his and only his instincts. While near everything he touches is delivered with an admirable level of panache and skill (the reggae trips are a real slog), it's hard to not feel both under- and overwhelmed by it all over repeat listens. Especially for those who came to this album on the heft of "Someone That I Used to Know" (which is ... everyone in America, right?), it's going to be a largely hit and miss affair simply by virtue of Gotye refusing to pick a stance and fight for it.

The list of admirable, brilliant, chameleonic musicians is long but it isn't exhaustive in comparison to the number of artists who got lost in their own meandering. Gotye very well could be a guy who's perfectly pleased attaching one gigantic hit to his albums and then playing to the beat of his own drum otherwise, but Making Mirrors offers plenty of evidence the guy could be capable of just a little bit more if he'd focus in on pop music at the expense of his more esoteric impulses, or at least learn how to separate the two more efficiently.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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